Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday Musings, 12 July 2014

Good morning,

My hands hover over the keys and stray back to the coffee mug or the spoon in the cup of yogurt.   Something about summer saddens me and draws my mind to murkier pools.  My mother died in the summer, and my brother did as well.  People tend to leave me in the summer: lovers, and spouses, and children.  I glance in each mirror as I pass and wonder:  Maybe I'm not pretty enough in the summer?  Maybe the heat makes me cranky and forgetful, and I don't attend to the needs of those far and near whose lives I could enrich?  In cooler days I know that at least the summer deaths which I've experienced had nothing to do with any shortcomings of mine, but it's hard to keep hold of that when the heat index hits one hundred.

I place my glasses down on the table.  Once the room has blurred, it could be any room, any where.  It could be the library at St. Louis University, in the summer of 1974, and I could be 18 again and living in a summer sublet on Russell, just east of Grand.

It's just a room, and not big at that.  One side has French doors which lead into the hallway and don't securely lock.  Two sides flank the street and have windows.  The fourth wall consists of two large bookcases shoved against the archway which leads to the kitchen of this old house.  The owner, a lonely  widow with steel grey hair and a nervous air, has done her best to make something habitable out of what had been her dining room.  The student who normally lives here has gone home for the summer, and I've dragged my two suitcases full of clothing and my box of books down from the dorm room which I had inhabited for a semester to take her place.

The lady herself lives in what used to be the living room.  A handful of male students live in the upstairs, in the actual bedrooms.  They share the upstairs bathroom and the kitchen.  I use the bathroom on the first floor, and have to go through the landlady's space to get to it.  It's less than optimal and I use it only when absolutely necessary.  I take my shower there, then get out of the house as soon as possible, off to my summer job where the bathrooms have private stalls and no one listening.

At night, the landlady stands outside my bedroom door and hisses that she's going to lock the front, am I inside for the night?  I pretend I am asleep though I don't think I fool her.  This ritual repeats itself every night; every night she alerts me, in her cold, lonely voice; and every night I hold my breath and don't respond.  I never go anywhere.  She figures that out some time in June but still asks the question; and still gets my silent answer.

I have no summer friends.  My handful of college compatriots have all gone back to their East Coast homes.  The local kids live up north, in Jennings, near my mother's house where I won't go because we haven't yet resolved the anger which drove me to leave in September.  I know I could go home; I know she would welcome me.  But I need my misery; I pull it around me like an afghan in winter, and curl on my sublet bed, and re-read Henry James novels and weep.  I write bad poetry and wonder why nothing seems to be the way I imagined it.  There's no phone in my room, but if there were one, it would never ring.

One night, in early August, there is a sharp rap on one of the panes of my door.  I watch the curtains, which are on the outside, and think I see one of them twitch.  Whoever is there knows that I'm here, lying on my bed.  They probably know the precise depth of the pool of pity in which I have immersed myself.  There's no reason not to drag myself over to the door and respond to the knock but still I hesitate.  The rap repeats; the twitch follows.  "Can you come?" I hear, in the old lady's hoarse hiss.  I can't ignore that request; my breeding wins out and I rise.

She's standing in the hallway in a dark robe and delicate, embroidered slippers.  I think they must be Daniel Greens, and tell myself that I have a similar pair in my suitcase, never unpacked.  "I need your help," she says.  I look at her face, then.  It wears the mark of time, the erosion, the cleaving of its planes, the stamp of sorrow.  "Of course, of course," I tell her.  She turns and enters her own room, with its matching curtained doors, and stands in front of an open closet.  "Can you get that box down?"  She tightens her robe and closes her face.  The request pains her.

I look on the shelf.  It's a big box, and deep. It looks heavy from where I stand.  I glance down and see she has placed a black tapestry footstool in front of the closet.  I'm thin but the thing looks fragile and I'm a little hesitant to stand on it.  I glance back at the lady and she nods, tersely I think.  She trusts the stool.  So I set my right foot on it and hoist my weight behind that, settling my left foot and steadying myself on the door frame.

As I slide the box towards me I wonder -- just briefly -- why she didn't get one of the men upstairs to help her.  But there's not much time for speculation; the box is heavier than it looks and I need to concentrate to keep myself from staggering back against the old woman.  I get it down and set it where she tells me, on the bed, and draw a deep breath.  The lady moves me out of the way and opens the box.

It's full of pictures, letters, old receipts, and yellowed documents.  I'm forgotten as the lady scrambles in its depths, murmuring to herself.  I creep out, back to my room, back to my sad, pathetic state, and eventually, I fall asleep.

I'm awakened the next day by another sharp tap on the glass.  I'm groggy, but I pull on a robe and open the door.  It's my landlady.  "The tea is ready," she says.  She turns and shuffles into the kitchen.  As though I'm her daughter; or her sister; as though she's ever made tea for me.  As though she makes it for me every day and I just forgot, the once.  I follow her.

It's properly brewed tea; leaves in an earthen pot.  She stands with her back to me at the stove and she's cooking eggs by the smell of it.  She lays a plate for me and one for herself.  She places whole wheat toast on a little plate, beside a small bowl of preserves.  We eat in silence.  Afterwards, I wash the dishes while she sweeps the floor.  When we've finished, she stands in the doorway and says, "Will you put it back for me?"  And I do, carefully, standing on the old black footstool, with the lady watching me.

And then I go about my day.

My landlady never made breakfast for me again.  She continued hissing at me, every night, that she would be locking the front door.  "Good night," I would call.  She did not answer, but I could tell she heard.  The curtain would twitch, and I would see her fingers, with their arthritic knuckles, rise a little.  And then I'd hear the soft sound of her slippers on the hardwood floor, and the quiet click of her own French door.  I would smile, then I would sleep.  The summer passed this way, until its warm days waned, and the coolness of the fall began to creep into the city, and my summer sublet ended.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.